Senate support for ACA repeal effort crumbles again

SALT LAKE CITY — As the latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act appeared to crumble Monday with a lack of necessary votes, Sen. Mike Lee’s office said the legislative effort “moves in the wrong direction.”

“Sen. Lee has not made a final decision on the bill, but the latest version moves in the wrong direction by giving more power to federal bureaucrats and less regulatory relief for states,” the senator’s spokesman, Conn Carroll, said in an email.

When asked for a timeline on the Utah Republican reaching a conclusion about the Graham-Cassidy bill, Carroll replied: “I do not think it is likely there will be a decision today.”

The legislation being mulled was proposed by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy from Louisiana.

Amid universal opposition from Democrats, Republicans in the Senate could only afford to lose three GOP votes and still get the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in recent days they cannot support the measure. Monday evening, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, confirmed she opposes it.

Barring a reversal from one of those three, the bill would fail to pass even if Lee voted for it.

The measure, as constituted Monday, would end former President Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies for consumers, and ship the money — $1.2 trillion through 2026 — to states to use on health services as block grants with few constraints.

Desperate to win over reluctant senators, GOP leaders revised the measure several times, adding money late Sunday for Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Kentucky and Texas in a clear pitch for Republican holdouts. They also gave states the ability — without federal permission — to permit insurers to charge people with serious illnesses higher premiums and to sell low-premium policies with big coverage gaps and high deductibles.

The Senate must vote this week for Republicans to have any chance of prevailing on a repeal bill with their slim 52-48 control of the chamber. On Sunday, rules allowing the measure to pass by a simple majority expire, and future legislation would need 60 votes to pass.

Hatch’s hearing

Also Monday, protesters disrupted a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill in Washington, just as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opened the meeting.

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